wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04ABUJA1656
2004-09-24 12:25:00
SECRET//NOFORN
Embassy Abuja
Cable title:  

RIVERS STATE FLARES UP AGAIN

Tags:   PREL  PGOV  NI  ASEC  DELTAVIOLENCE 
pdf how-to read a cable
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

241225Z Sep 04
						S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 001656 

SIPDIS

NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2014
TAGS: PREL PGOV NI ASEC DELTAVIOLENCE
SUBJECT: RIVERS STATE FLARES UP AGAIN

REF: A. ABUJA 1486


B. LAGOS 1892

C. LAGOS 1820

Classified By: Ambassador John Campbell for Reasons 1.5 (B & D).

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 001656

SIPDIS

NOFORN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2014
TAGS: PREL PGOV NI ASEC DELTAVIOLENCE
SUBJECT: RIVERS STATE FLARES UP AGAIN

REF: A. ABUJA 1486


B. LAGOS 1892

C. LAGOS 1820

Classified By: Ambassador John Campbell for Reasons 1.5 (B & D).


1. (C) SUMMARY: The Delta continues as a flashpoint of
communal/political problems in Nigeria. The political and
economic environment there has given rise to competing gangs
of criminals, militias and political opportunists (Ref A).
President Obasanjo has spoken of a desire for a peaceful
solution to the crises, but a recent GON assault on one of
the militias threatens to terminate the possibility for a
negotiated solution to the problems and bodes ill for the
future. The fighting has gone far beyond a dispute between
gangs (Ref C), involves the governor of the state, and is not
business as usual. END SUMMARY.


2. (U) The Delta region continues to be the flashpoint of
communal/political problems for Nigeria and President
Obasanjo. The political manipulation from the 2003 elections
created an environment that fostered confrontation in a
region already prone to altercations, and overflowing with
well-armed militias funded by major oil thieves that are
major political players (Ref A). In the recent spate of
attacks and counterattacks in Rivers state, the Port Harcourt
area -- the center of Nigeria's oil industry -- has become
the epicenter of the most critical problem in the region.

BACKGROUND
--------------


3. (C) The entire Delta area remains prone to ethnic violence
that can be divided into three distinct issues:

a) marginalization of the Ogonis and other minorities in the
east;
b) intra-Ijaw and political problems in the center, and
c) conflict between the Ijaw, Itsekiri and Urhobo in the west.

There are also four types of armed militias to undertake that
violence: ethnic, cults, criminal, and political. While
each militia is often a mix of them, they have their own
dynamics and very different goals. Most credible observers
attribute a very small percentage of the conflict to actual
"cult" violence. The term cult, properly describing

indigenous religious practices, is sometimes used freely by
Nigerian officials to refer to criminal and ethnic militia
activity in order to misdirect responsibility and heighten
the fear and concern of residents. The eastern and western
conflicts in the Delta are properly attributed primarily to
ethnic tensions over economic issues, and fueled by criminal
activity. The Port Harcourt conflict, while described as
"cultism" by the GON, is more properly attributed to the
possibilities for personal enrichment through criminal and
political activity, and occurs primarily within the Ijaw
tribe.

NEW MILITARY OPERATIONS
--------------


4. (S/NF) Ambassador and Poloff spoke recently to an
Australian national who originally came to Nigeria as a
consultant for Shell Oil and is now freelancing, and who also
claims a close relationship with President Obasanjo by having
served as Obasanjo's intermediary separate from official
government channels. He said he had been able to arrange
discussions between Obasanjo and Alhaji Dokubo Asari, leader
of one of the militias in Rivers state. The Australian said
they had reportedly agreed on or about September 7 to a
ceasefire and to negotiations headed by EFCC Chairman Nuhu
Ribadu on Ribadu's return from an overseas trip. On
September 16, only a couple of days before that first
negotiations, a source close to Asari reported that the
Nigerian military had just launched a new campaign "aimed at
eliminating him" (Ref C).


5. (S/NF) Sources in the Asari camp say that the attack was
"expected" and that the fighters were able to disperse into
the jungle. That and earlier fighting in and around Port
Harcourt has primarily been a power struggle between two
major power brokers, Rivers State Governor Peter Odili and
his former henchman Asari. Asari now questions both his
safety and Obasanjo's sincerity, and reportedly says he will
only conduct negotiations by one of his many cell phones.
One contact reported that Asari told him "this is personal
and I will shock Nigeria." He has also threatened to storm
Rivers capital Port Harcourt and occupy "Government House,"
and assassinate Rivers Governor Odili even at the expense of
his own life.


6. (S/NF) A lone press article in the newspaper "This Day" on
September 17 reported the fighting, but a member of Asari's
group and a State Security Service (SSS) officer stationed at
the Presidential Villa in Abuja confirmed the facts. The
various reports agree that a major operation was launched by
"land, sea and air" and that the battle has not gone well for
the Nigerian military. While some sources claim that 200
soldiers have been killed, our SSS source could only confirm
200 "casualties" among the military. "The situation is
grave," he said, "and every effort is being made to keep it
out of the press." This SSS source said Chief of Staff Gen.
Ogomudia has assumed personal command of the ongoing
operation and at least 500 soldiers are involved.
Reinforcements are expected from Calabar, perhaps as many as
400 more men. The SSS source related that he was present at
a September 21 meeting at the Villa where Ogomudia lashed out
at SSS head Kayode Are and Chief of Army Staff Martin Agwai,
shouting that "if you don't know how to handle this, I will
do it myself."


7. (C) It appears the fighting has slowed since September 21,
but the situation is still unsettled. According to a
journalist in Abuja, many reporters in Port Harcourt have
been detained, slapped and "threatened directly" with bodily
harm if they pursue the story of the military operation.
Rumors have emerged about the use of "chemical weapons" but
remain rumors at this point. The use of any sophisticated CW
is highly unlikely, but tear gas is plentiful in Nigeria.

ONE MAN'S ASSESSMENT
--------------


8. (S/NF) The Australian consultant gave Ambassador and
Poloff an overall assessment of the region that meshes
closely with Embassy's (Ref A). The consultant said that
Obasanjo has finally realized that the problems in the Delta
would not succumb to a military solution alone. For this
reason, Obasanjo has been seeking dialog in order to halt the
violence. The Australian also claimed that Obasanjo has
"realized that Governor Odili is a crook and a large part of
the problem." With that in mind, Obasanjo reportedly asked
the source to facilitate bartered settlements for the various
conflicts.


9. (S/NF) With the intervention of the "Coventry Cathedral
Group" in Ogoniland, some of the disputes in the eastern
Delta appeared "headed for a solution," the Australian
averred. Obasanjo reportedly met with MOSOP (Movement for
the Sovereignty of the Ogoni People) leader Ledum Mittee
recently and agreed on engagement to resolve ongoing
disputes. In the western Delta, there is a ceasefire between
many combatants but breaches are becoming more common. The
ethnic and political dimension of this dispute renders it
difficult to resolve with an overhaul of the political system
at some level. The Australian said that Obasanjo is not
concentrating on this issue at the moment, and militants from
the Ijaw and from the O'odua Peoples Congress have not been
fighting in the area for some months. Still, delays in
incorporating political gains could create friction again in
the near future (Ref B).


10. (S/NF) While the east and west appear to be comparatively
quiet for the moment, the center is boiling. Recent military
actions demonstrate the potential for this conflict to create
even bigger headaches than the other two have been.
According to Obasanjo,s Australian consultant, the center
part of the Delta region, in Rivers and Bayelsa states, is
the most troubling problem. While Governor Odili has blamed
Asari for the violence, Asari claims that the clashes in and
around Port Harcourt were carried out by the leader of
another militia, Ateke Tom, and another militia called the
Okrika Peacemakers operating out of Bayelsa since Tom drove
them from Rivers.


11. (S/NF) The Australian judges that Obasanjo is hamstrung
by domestic politics and but is generally receptive to
innovative measures to limit the violence. He said Obasanjo
was also receptive to an increased international presence in
the Gulf to restore the GON's sovereignty and the Rule of
Law. Obasanjo was looking for increased participation from
the oil companies too, and supposedly would welcome "external
powers" patrolling the region to combat the oil
thieves/smugglers that the GON is unable to control.

SOME HISTORY ON GOV. ODILI, ASARI AND TOM
--------------


12. (C) When Nigeria held its 1999 election, Odili reportedly
hired Asari and another strongman, Ateke Tom, to ensure the
PDP victory in Rivers State. A Rivers State security
official admitted recently that she had been instrumental in
hiring Asari and was aware of, but not involved in, hiring
Tom. Asari was also able to assist Bayelsa Governor
Alamieyeseigha in winning his state for the PDP. By the time
the 2003 elections took place, Asari was having second
thoughts about working for Odili and Obasanjo, and said he
was basing his change of heart on Obasanjo's perceived
neglect of the oil region during his first term in office.

13. (C) Asari claims to have been a part of rigging the
Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom elections in favor of the PDP
and admits to carrying out attacks on government and oil
installations in the regions. He justifies his attacks by
saying that he wants to "liberate" Okrika-speaking areas,
claiming an 1893 treaty with the UK recognized the
independence of the region. He says that the way out of the
"illegal amalgamation" of the Nigerian state is for a
national conference and referendum on the continuation of the
federation. Since his defection from Odili's camp, he has
vowed to "crush" Tom and Odili.
COMMENT
--------------


14. (S/NF) President Obasanjo's intentions remain unclear.
The alleged link between Obasanjo's son Gbenga and Gov. Odili
and their involvement in oil smuggling and other activities
is said by administration critics to have the President's
blessing. While Governors have enough influence to gain
military action -- one of the reasons President Obasanjo gave
for sacking Plateau Governor Dariye was that Dariye did not
quell militia fighting -- it is also unlikely that the
military would have launched the September 16 assault on
Asari against Obasanjo's direct orders.


15. (C) The situation around Port Harcourt remains, by all
accounts, grave. At least hundreds have died, perhaps
thousands wounded or made homeless, mostly innocent
civilians. With Asari,s knowledge of the area and his
determination to exact a measure of revenge, the fighting is
not likely to end soon.
CAMPBELL